“Let me drive the old lady,” said Josh. “You look pooped, Pablo.”
The round doctor was visibly frayed, and his eyes, hooded with fatigue, got lost entirely in his grin of relief. “You do that, my good fellow. And be careful to keep her on the pavement. I believe I shall take this opportunity to rest a bit in the back seat. This is a real car, you know, not one of your toys.”
Josh grinned in return, lounging into the driver’s seat of the Mercedes. “I’ll do what I can, if I can find roads big enough for her to fit on.”
Theodore and Esmerelda Joined Pablo in the back seat, and the man from space was offered the right front seat. He had not spoken since he had been asked about his sister, and sat in a state of trance, oblivious to his physical surroundings, except for the link which he and Esmerelda had. Esmerelda was very quiet, and kept her eyes closed in concentration, but she could be spoken to, and Josh did so, as the door slammed shut and he started the engine. “We’re off, Esmerelda, but where to?”
She looked at the space man and pointed roughly northeast. “That way.”
The space man gave a brief nod of agreement. “OK.” Joshua steered the car along the driveway.
“That means the highway will take us approximately the right way.” He kept the car in the first two gears until they came off the access road and then took it through third and into fourth with the smooth actions of the car buff. The engine responded lithely, then settled and cruised, purring steadily. Joshua settled too, moving his shoulders back against the seat, straightening his arms. “Not bad for a staff car,” he said, looking at Pablo in the rear view mirror and chuckling at the sleeping professor.
He glanced more carefully in the mirror, and caught Theodore’s eyes. “I think we’re being followed.”
Theodore looked out the back window. “You may be right. That car has stayed with us for a long time. It’s been sitting right there, about a half a mile back, ever since we turned on to the highway.”
Joshua was still consulting his rear view mirror. “Think they’re tails?”
Theodore nodded. “Well, if they’re not, they’re trying to look like it. Why don’t you speed up a little and see if they try to keep up?”
“Might do that. See what this barge’ll do, too.” The speedometer needle drifted past a hundred as the car kept accelerating, sounding easy and smooth even as it crept past 120 and headed for the peg. Joshua passed a startled, sleepy Volkswagen, the first car besides their tail that they had encountered since getting on the limited access highway. Theodore had turned around in the seat and was watching the headlights of the second car. “They’re right with us, Josh.” The Volkswagen was so unnerved by the second car’s passage that it pulled into the emergency lane and stopped; it was soon lost from sight as the two cars spent themselves like bullets down the straight grey road.
Pablo woke up, suddenly, becoming dimly conscious of the screaming speed of the vehicle in which he had been taking his ease. He looked out the window with bleary, half-open eyes. The eyes widened. He sat up very straight, very quickly, and bellowed at Joshua. “What are you doing with my car, you straight arm maniac?”
“Hang loose, Pablo.” Joshua was talking out of the side of his mouth, for he didn’t dare turn his head from the road, traveling on it at twice the speed limit. “I’m pushing because we’re being followed. Take a look out the back.”
Pablo did as he was told. “Who are they?”
Joshua grinned at that question. “Just what I was about to ask you, Watson. I’m not the one who’s been doing bad things and getting shot at. Don’t you have any idea of who these jokers could be?”
Pablo looked again. “No, unless they’re some of the same people that kidnapped the girl. But why would they be following us? They already have what they came for. Maybe they’re trying more than one way to pressure me.”
“We are, undeniably, being followed,” said Theodore. “Listen, does anybody have a map? If we could get on to some country road, I bet we could lose them. Their car has the speed, but I’ll bet Josh could lose them on hard curves.”
Pablo reached over the space man’s shoulder and fished through the glove box until he found a road map. He pinpointed their location on it, and spotted a likely looking road ahead. He showed the map to Behr. “How about this one?”
“It’s pretty good. Listen, Josh, it’s about ten miles from where we are right now, so it’s coming up in about five minutes. It goes off to the right there, almost a U-turn. It looks like the first paved road. OK?”
Joshua nodded. “Esmerelda, how about going more to the south?”
“Which way is that?” Joshua pointed.
“No, that’s not the right way. It’s that way.” She pointed stubbornly and steadily northeast.
Joshua turned a bit to call out to Pablo, “Any way to get back on the road we’re on now from that one?”
Pablo consulted. “Yes, after about thirty miles there’s a cutoff that takes us back. We’d lose time though, wouldn’t we?”
“Sure, but we might also lose these birds behind us. It’s worth a try. They might be dangerous.”
Pablo nodded. “There’s a lively possibility of that.” Theodore had an idea. “Esmerelda!”
She stirred. “Yes?”
“Can you tell us anything about the people that are following us? ”
She obediently shut her eyes and concentrated, but opened them again within a few seconds. “No, I can’t get near them. I don’t know them, and the only way I can pick up other people is for them to be calling for my attention, or for them to be familiar to me. Sorry, Ted. Maybe our friend from space could tell us more.” She closed her eyes again briefly, and opened them again in unison with the space man. “Please tell me anything you can about the entities that are following this car.”
The man from space sat quite still, not moving at all except as the car moved him; this was his constant habit. He never made his arms and hands move as he spoke or thought; his fair face never colored, nor did his rather wide mouth move into any expression except a smile at any time. Theodore’s face was in constant motion, the wide mouth mobile, the colors of pleasure, anxiety and thought moving rapidly across his pale skin and changing its tone constantly; consequently, the casual observer might not have thought the two men looked much alike at all, except for being of the same height and coloring. Right now, the difference was especially obvious, because Ted was on his knees facing the back window, eyes intent and dark, the flush of excitement across his high cheekbones, the muscles of his temple and jaw tense. The man from space, at the request of Esmerelda, closed his eyes, which he had opened at her summons for attention: that had been his only discernible movement. Now his eyelids were closed over the icy grey-blue of his eyes. His white skin lay smooth over the framework of muscle and bone it covered and protected. He spoke after a minute of concentration. “There are two groups.”
The entire entourage turned to look at him. “What do you mean? asked Esmerelda. “There is a car with some men in it, who are half a mile behind us. These are the people that we meant. Are there additional people behind us that are following us?”
“How many cars are following us, then?”
Esmerelda turned to look at Pablo, who sat with a baffled and almost petulant look on his face, eyes screwed up, looking at the back of Joshua’s neck. “Ask him about all of them, then,” he told Esmerelda.
She questioned him as directed, and they all waited for more information; none came. The man from space sat again like a statue, eyes beginning to close.
“Wait, my brother,” said Esmerelda. “Can’t you tell us anything more about these people?”
Joshua had found the cutoff and had angled the automobile nearly off the road on the far side in approach to it, braking sharply and shifting down to second, then accelerating out of the sharp turn to push the car back over 100 miles an hour. Padeyevsky seemed momentarily stunned. “I’m very glad you’re driving this car instead of me, Josh. I don’t mind facing people on firm ground, but I’m scared to death in this thing.”
Theodore was still glued to the back window. “I see the second car,” he announced, as Joshua’s skill maneuvered them barely past the trunk of a tree on the bad side of a curve that put them on top of a fair-sized hill.
“I ... LOVE a parade,” sang Josh in his clear, resonant, and distinctly inaccurate baritone. They were moving through one turn and curve after another, up and down rolling hills. This was indeed a country road.
“I think it’s working, “exulted Ted. “At least, I can’t see either one of them anymore.”
Joshua was making the big car hum tunes, snicking into the two middle gears and back out as the choice between speed and handling was decided and redecided. “I’ll have to admit, Pablo. Your car isn’t too terribly bad, for a grand touring car.”
The owner of the vehicle shrank into the back seat’s upholstery. “Just drive, Josh. Just drive.”
Esmerelda was smiling. “I think you’re enjoying yourself, Joshua.”
Josh was having fun. He almost never competed with anyone for anything, but the situation had come upon him here, and he relished it. The challenge of skidding close to death, with only his skill between safety and disaster, held his interest to the point that he could forget that he was on an inhospitable planet. He was enjoying himself thoroughly. The skin at the corners of his eyes crinkled a little, and he muttered to her, “Have no fear, I won’t make a habit of this. It might be the death of your good uncle.”
He geared deftly down and slipped the car into a sharp turn, barely avoiding a drift. A house came into view on one side of the two-lane road, a small, ranch-style house.
“How about pulling into that garage and shutting the door?” said Pablo.
Josh nodded. “Beautiful. A stroke of genius!” He downshifted again and pulled into the driveway of the place, and directly into the open garage. He killed the engine and got out to shut the garage door. He watched through the long-paned windows of the door as the pursuing cars raced past and vanished down the road. Their dust was still settling when a voice, very chilly, very rural, very firm, said, “Don’t make a single move, any of you.”
They all, except the man from space, who was still deep in meditation, turned in the direction of the voice. It was close to them, coming apparently from the screen door opening from the garage into the little house.
“Get out of that car, real easy now.”
Doors opened and they complied, Esmerelda and the man from space last. No one wanted to chance getting the rest hurt, although thoughts of the chances of resistance crossed Joshua’s and Pablo’s minds, and even Theodore’s. But all five ended up closing the car doors without having resisted at all, and then following instructions to open the garage door and line up in front of the garage.
OK, Lily, you hold the gun on them. I’ll check them out.” Time passed. Then, “This little fat one’s got a revolver.” Over Pablo’s rising objections he removed it.
He moved around in front of them for the first time, so that they could see him; he was a stocky, ruddy-faced man of middle height, nearly bald, with small, well-shaped features built close together on a broad, fleshy face completed by a double chin and deep neck wrinkles under the ears. “Well, now. What have we got here, Lily?” Lily’s answer never came, because one of the cars that had been following them came barreling back over the hill into view, trying to pick up the lost trail. The car’s one occupant saw the group, and behind them, the Mercedes. He swerved the car into the driveway and up its length to the turn-around in front of the garage, and angled the car across its expanse so that the front bumper of his car pointed at the garage’s far corner. He had seen that one of the men had a revolver. The opened door on his side of the car could be used for protection if the man could not be persuaded to put his weapon down.
The bald man had turned from the five he had been guarding, and now had his revolver pointed right at the intruder’s head. There was no doubt in his mind but that this new arrival was in league with these other five, and had come here to threaten him. The man in the car, in a reflex action, seeing the impressive hole of the revolver’s barrel leveled at him, ducked below the windshield, and opened his car door, keeping his head below window level and bringing his own pistol up towards the bald man.
He began to speak, but his sentence was never delivered, either. For, at the angle at which the car was parked, Lily could easily see what he was doing; she saw the pistol being raised against her husband. She knew he was going to be killed if she did not protect him. And as the intruder opened his mouth to communicate, Lily put her gun hand straight out, held its wrist with her other hand, and shot him. The man fell, clumsily out of the car. His pistol bounced from his hand. He did not move from where he had fallen.
The baldheaded man lowered Pablo’s revolver slowly, looking incredulously across the driveway at his victim. He looked back at the group, then at the hidden Lily. “You shot him.”
He stood immobile for a few seconds, at a loss. “Keep them covered, Lily. Not one move out of any of you. Lily’s a dead squirrel shot. She wouldn’t miss.”
He trotted over to where the sprawled body lay, disengaged it from the car entirely, and examined it cautiously, keeping the revolver ready. He picked up the gun the man had dropped, and put it in his pocket. Then he sat down next to him, looking at Lily behind her screen door. “He’s dead. You killed him, Lily.”
“He would’ve killed you if I hadn’t.” The unperturbed voice held a trace of righteous indignation.
He turned back to the newly arrived dead and began to go through his pockets.
The five from Pablo’s car still stood with their hands up, getting more and more restless. Pablo had stopped feeling guilty about the kidnapping; he had stopped feeling frustrated at failing to right the damage; he was on the verge of real fury. Joshua was, characteristically, having a good enough time: he was looking vaguely up at the green and golding leaves above him and mentally rewriting the entire incident for television. “If I only had a tape recorder,” he was murmuring to Esmerelda, who stood, nearly undone by the sight of the carelessly executed killing. Theodore was trying to think of a plausible way out of this situation. Only the man from space continued quite unmoved; he stood with his hands up; Esmerelda had explained to him that this posture was required. His eyes were still closed and his thoughts were with his sister from space, for this was the initial request of his hosts, and he would continue, regardless of the circumstances of his physical environment. The four other sets of arms were getting exceedingly weary of being held up.
The owner of the house spoke as he went through the dead man’s pockets. “I’m a deputy sheriff in this county, and I reckon I got a right to protect my property and the common peace. Ain’t that right, Lily?”
The repeated agreements from Lily did nothing to bolster anyone’s confidence in his abilities to extricate them from this. “We really had something bust in on us here, didn’t we, Lily?” Theodore raised his voice, very meekly. “Could we put our hands down, if we promise not to do anything suspicious?”
The deputy was still going through pockets. “Here we go. Here’s his wallet. Wonder what gang these hoodlums are in. And with a girl too. Must be real …” The man’s healthy color left his face. He looked sick and then,
abruptly, sicker. He read a piece of identification. He reread it. He looked
at the man’s face, lying there on the grass, lifeless. “Lily,” he intoned, with a thin, bemused dignity. “There’s something funny here. Come on out.”
Lily came. Lily bent and looked. She turned the card over and looked some more. “What’s the Criminal Investigations Division of the U. S. Army?” she asked her husband. “Is that some kind of code?”
“Lily, we shot a government man.”
The deputy sat. In unison, they turned and looked at the miserable five
standing, arms dead weight against them in the air. “Now, look,” said Pablo. “I’m Dr. Pablo Padeyevsky, and we’re not gangsters.” “What’s going on, then? This man chasing you, was he trying to
Pablo looked a little stupid, as he always did when he was trying to think. “Well, we were …”Pablo was stumped. “I’m Joshua Starr,” said Joshua. Lily looked him over carefully. “He’s telling the truth, Hubert. I
know him from the TV. I seen him on the TV lots of times.” “What is he, some kind of actor?”“Well, not exactly. But I seen him on the TV.”“OK. We got one of you identified. So what’s going on?”“Can we put our hands down first?” Starr spoke to Lily. “Let ‘em,
They lowered their arms with great relief, the space man following their lead. Pablo spoke now. “We are on a mission of some importance. We are
working on the same side as the Army man. You are holding up fiveprivate and decent citizens. I tell you, we’ve got to get back on the road.”
The deputy sat so still on the grass that Lily spoke to him. “What’s the matter, Hubert?”
The white-faced man tried to speak through the pallor, and his voice came out pale as his face, and much, much thinner. “I think he’s telling the truth, Lily.”
Without saying another word, he heaved himself upright from his sitting position and walked into the house.
Lily started after him. “Excuse me, but something’s wrong with Hubert. I got to go look after him.” She turned to Starr. “I knew you couldn’t be no gangster, Mr. Starr. I seen you on TV.” She walked into the house after her husband, a shapeless, short, and infinitely dignified figure.
Joshua, Pablo and Theodore ran for the car. Esmerelda again contacted the man from space, and brought up the rear. They slammed the doors, and Joshua maneuvered around the CID man’s sedan and let the Mercedes start to roll back down the driveway. It had rolled about half the length of the drive when its occupants heard a command that was beginning to sound drearily familiar: “All right, stop that car and get out with your hands up.”
A car had pulled into the foot of the driveway, blocking them. It was no use trying to outrun these new voices, the other car which had been following them was now in position to block the driveway completely. With the steep ditch on either side of the drive, there was simply no place to go.
Joshua bowed to the inevitable and put the car back to sleep, set the parking brake, and removed his long body from its seat behind the wheel. The others followed suit, clambering out and lifting arms still tired from the last bout of hands-up.
Two men got out of the car blocking the driveway. One of them watched Pablo with a slight smile, not friendly, but full of recognition.
“Col. Church!” Padeyevsky’s by-now bloodshot eyes took in his acquaintance. “What are you doing here?”
“Always the confidence of a rhinoceros, Pablo. But we’ll be asking the questions here. Where’s Capt. Crouse?”
Pablo inclined his head towards the body in the grass by the garage. “That’s none of our doing, Colonel.”
The Colonel motioned his confederate forward and told him, “Watch them.” He walked up the long driveway to the inert, prone form of Capt. Crouse, examined it thoroughly for signs of life, found none, and walked soberly and with some determination back to the little group by the Mercedes.
“Padeyevsky, I have a personal impression of you as a man of some ability, and I assure you that we will listen to whatever explanation you have.” His voice was sharpening and developing in volume, though not in pitch, with each word. “But an officer of the United States Army is dead. And if you had anything to do with that, you’re not going to be asking any questions for a long, long time. Understood?”
Padeyevsky nodded his head. “Oh, yes. Now. You see …”
“Wait a minute.” The Colonel turned to look at the house. “Anybody in there?”
“Yes, the woman who shot your Captain Crouse, and her husband. He’s a deputy sheriff.”
The Colonel squinted a little in vague disbelief and said, “Wait here, Armstrong.” He moved cautiously up the drive and towards the front of the house. But there was no sign of defense of property, and he disappeared in the front door, to come out again three minutes later.
“I want all of you in the house,” he said from the front steps. They all filed up the drive in the front door, with Armstrong’s prompting. There was a brief domestic flurry as Lily produced chairs enough for the population, then the deputy and Lily returned into the kitchen, apparently as per the Colonel’s orders.
“All right, Padeyevsky. She shot the Captain, all right; I can tell that just by the way the deputy’s acting, even if she hadn’t already admitted it. Now, how about you explaining how it all happened.”
Pablo roused himself from the torpor of utter exhaustion that kept threatening to overcome him, and did a creditable job of truthfully outlining the series of actions that had placed him here. “The five of us are involved in a personal matter that has nothing to do with the death of your man. We had an urgent reason to leave my house very early this morning, and we discovered after our departure that we were being followed. In an effort to elude our tail, which we have now discovered to be you, we took a side road, and pulled into this driveway, which was chosen randomly and on the spur of the moment as a way of avoiding the cars that had been following us. However, while we were on these premises, the deputy threatened us with his revolver, and forced us to remain here. We have been here ever since, and wish only to be on our way.”
Church listened to Padeyevsky’s story with apparent belief. “OK, that sounds right, as far as it goes. But you have left out one item that is of utmost importance here. Why did you leave your house in such a hurry, at that time of night?”
Pablo’s lined, rather oily face took on an expression of chagrin. “Well, I’d rather not say.”
Church began to look dark in the face. “Look, Padeyevsky. I’m being very patient with you. But a man has been killed, and I’d rather you did say. And right now.”
Pablo shifted in his seat. “What we left the house for has nothing to do with you or the Signal Corps, Colonel. But I’m afraid that if I tell you our mission, it will endanger the life of one of my friends.”
“Who is this guy, anyway?” Starr wanted to know.
“I’ve done some consulting work with his technical people,” said Pablo. “We worked together for several months, over two years ago.” He turned to the Colonel, moving slowly. “I’m very tired, Church. But I assure you these people had nothing to do with me before we turned into their driveway. We are involved in a strictly private matter, and I have already …”
“Murder is not a private matter!” The Colonel was on his feet. “Now look here, Padeyevsky, you’re in hot water, whether you know it or not. I can have every one of you locked up as material witnesses to murder, and what’s more, I’m sure that if we look hard enough, we’re going to discover that you and your party caused the whole incident, and should be blamed for the murder of Captain Crouse as well. Now you come clean with me.”
Pablo took some more meat out of his lower lip. “If I tell you what the difficulty is, will you promise not to repeat the confidence to anyone, after you see that it’s really the truth I’m telling, and this is a private matter?”
“If it’s not germane to the case, I think I can promise to keep it confidential.”
“All right.” Pablo reluctantly opened his mouth to speak and then turned to Josh, who nodded as if to say, “That’s all you can do, Pablo.”
Pablo began. “I am, as you know, Colonel, a rich man. I have been the victim of a successful kidnapping attempt. They thought they were getting my niece, Esmerelda, but unfortunately they mistook a guest we had staying in the house last night for her. We are trying to get to our guest and redeem her, as we believe that she may be in some danger.”
“Those people that shot out your tires. Are they the kidnappers?” asked the Colonel.
“We have been watching you, Padeyevsky, as well as everyone connected with the project you and I worked on together. We got intelligence that someone had been working on that project overtime. For the other side. And when we looked closely at you, we discovered some connection or other between you and the syndicate.” The Colonel waited.
“Look, Colonel, there is a connection. But it has nothing to do with the case your people are working on. I’m not selling secrets to anybody. Besides, I don’t think that there’s anything to sell. Telepathy just can’t be developed for military use.”
“All right then, what connection did you have with the syndicate?”
“Gambling.” As the Colonel’s eyebrows began to raise again, Pablo added hastily, “Oh, it was just betting on horses. I just figured out a, well, a sort of system, and I won more than the syndicate thought I should. So they were out to get me.”
“Oh!” said Esmerelda. She stood up, suddenly, in great agitation. “Our friend is in great danger. And I can no longer find her!”
“What?” said the Colonel.
Esmerelda quickly came to herself and looked at the floor, blushing. She sat back down. The Colonel looked at Padeyevsky. “What’s she talking about?”
The group seemed to be tongue-tied, and sat looking at Esmerelda and the man from space with expressions of greatest concern on each face. The Colonel brusquely stood up again. “Sgt. Armstrong, call Headquarters and see if they can send someone to take care of this matter. I’m not going to get any more out of them here.”
“Look.” Pablo was on his feet now, too. “I’ve told you the absolute truth, Church. We have absolutely nothing to do with your Signal Corps. There is no threat to your people at all. I have divulged no secrets. And this is very, very serious. What my niece just told us is that the girl who was kidnapped is now in even greater danger than we thought she was, and that she has lost contact with her.
“Lost contact?” The Colonel stared at Esmerelda, who was clad in a dress, a light coat, and sandals. “Padeyevsky, is she using telepathy?”
Pablo hurried on. “Yes, she has the gift of telepathy. Although you couldn’t use it for military purposes, I assure you. She is using it now to try and keep contact with the girl who’s been kidnapped. We aren’t trying to outsmart you, or keep back information. We just need, very badly, to be on our way. It’s a matter of life and death. We’ve got to leave.”
“You don’t have to tell me it’s a matter of life and death. You just killed a man!”
“But we didn’t kill him!”
“Well, it looks to me like you’re responsible for it.”
“Look, if one of us stayed behind, say me, to answer your questions and cooperate with you, could the rest go on? You know you can’t help us; no government or police people could. We’ve got to do it ourselves, as private citizens, or risk getting the girl killed. And we’ve got to do it now.”
Everyone in the room was on his feet by this time, with the exception of the man from space; all were seconding Pablo’s suggestion. The Sergeant was suspended in motion towards the telephone, and stood in the doorway looking alert and hostile. He was sure the entire room was filled with either kooks or criminals. The Colonel’s eye caught the one seated figure. “Who is that guy? What’s he doing with his eyes closed like that?”
Pablo hastened to speak. “He’s another friend of mine, who has the gift of telepathy, and is trying to locate our friend who has been kidnapped.”
“What’s your name? The Colonel walked over to the man from space and addressed him. He was ignored, not on purpose, but because the man was not aware that he was being spoken to. “Ah,” said Pablo.
“He’s a friend of mine, an actor,” said Joshua, moving beside Esmerelda and pointing her, very gently, towards the man from space.
“And who are you?”
“I am Joshua Starr.”
The Colonel, not being a devotee of daytime television, was not impressed.
“I work in television.”
“Well, does this man know where your friend is?” Esmerelda spoke. “No, he doesn’t.”
“Well, how do you know. Let him tell me. What is this? Can’t he speak for himself?”
Esmerelda summoned the man from space, and his eyes opened immediately. “My brother, please tell this man here what you have found out about your sister.”
The space man calmly turned his head until his level eyes met the gaze of the Colonel. “I am not in thought with my sister.”
“That’s an act, all right.” The Sergeant was coming back into the room now, having determined to his own satisfaction that these people were lying completely, and needed a firm hand. “Colonel, I say send them all down to police headquarters and let them cool their heels for a while. That’ll cure them of this stuff.” Padeyevsky nearly bounced down Colonel Church’s throat. “No, no, don’t do that.” Josh was moving forward too; Esmerelda was showing signs of being ready to cry with worry; Theodore was holding Esmerelda’s shoulder and talking to the Sergeant, saying, “We’re not acting; can’t you see that this is really …” The Colonel was turning pale again, except that a spot showed in each cheek which indicated that he was just as upset as before, only not quite as out of control.
The man from space cut through the confusion without raising his voice. He simply stood up and walked towards the door of the small living room.
“Where are you going?” The Colonel stood in the man’s way. The space man calmly moved past the Colonel’s bulk as though it were not there, and the Colonel was too dumbfounded to restrain him. The man walked out the door and down the steps.
The Colonel watched him go. In a state of almost total disbelief, he sputtered, “Halt, I mean, stop!”
The figure, unwaveringly and without hurry, walked on.
“Padeyevsky, make him stop. Tell him to stop. I’ll have to shoot him.
“Ah, wait a minute,” said Padeyevsky. The space man walked on.
Esmerelda stood, looking blankly at the front door. Theodore shook her by the shoulders. “Esmerelda! You’ve got to stop the space man!”
The Colonel turned around. “What? What do you mean, space man?”
“Uh,” said Behr, realizing his slip too late.
The Colonel shrugged that minor question aside. “Halt, stop or I’ll shoot.”
The man walked on.
The Colonel raised his pistol and aimed it at the space man, then carefully moved it, raising it slightly so that it would send its bullet ten feet or so to the right of the man, and above his head. He fired. The man paid no more attention to the sound than to the snapping of a twig. He walked on. There was another shot, from the open window. The man from space fell forward on the ground and lay there, unmoving.
The Colonel looked to his left to see Sgt. Armstrong holding his match .45, the spent casing just rolling off the porch. “You idiot,” he shouted. “I wasn’t aiming to hit him. I was just warning him.”
The Sergeant looked at the Colonel as though he’d lost his senses. “But, sir, you warned him …”
The Colonel took the steps and the few yards of lawn that lay between him and the man from space and dropped to his knees beside the still form. He put his ear to the man’s back, then held his wrist. There seemed to be no signs of life.
Both Padeyevsky and Joshua attempted to follow the Colonel down the steps. “Hold it.” The Sergeant was motioning with his .45, which he was patently ready to use. They held it.
The Colonel came up the steps looking as weary as Padeyevsky. “It’s no use. He’s dead.” He collapsed in his kitchen chair. So did Padeyevsky and Joshua.
“May I go to him?” Esmerelda had waved away Theodore’s comforting arm; she seemed calmer than before the shooting had actually occurred.
“No,” said the Sergeant.
“Of course,” said the Colonel.
The Sergeant’s gun lowered. Esmerelda went down the steps of the front porch and to the space man.
The Colonel turned to Theodore. “What did you mean by calling that guy a space man?”
“Oh,” said Theodore. “He’s just an actor who …”
The Colonel gestured him to silence with one hand and turned his eyes back to Padeyevsky. “Wait a minute, here, Pablo.” He sat and contemplated him for a minute. “You know, if anyone could do it, you could.”
Esmerelda opened the front screen door. “If we can purge a volume of space, we can save him.”
“What?” the Colonel’s voice rose incredulously. “He’s dead.” No, wait,” said Padeyevsky. “If she says she can save him, she can.” He sat, forward and low in his chair, thinking. “All right, Church,” he said at last. “We’ve got a man from another planet, an alien, and your man has shot him. But Esmerelda says we can save him, if we let her and Mr. Starr do it. Will you allow them the freedom to save him?”
“Look, Padeyevsky, there’s no way in the world to bring the dead to life again. Is there?” The Colonel sat, momentarily brought to a standstill by the dawning thought that this just might really be a man from space.
“Not for anyone on this planet, Colonel. But this man has powers of healing that I don’t suppose we have. Is that right, Esmerelda?” She nodded. “Yes. All we have to do is purge a volume of space of its negativity. He hasn’t severed the silver cord yet.”
“Excuse me, Colonel,” said the Sergeant, “but I think these people are trying to put something over on you.”
“Listen,” said Padeyevsky. “We’ve got to act fast, if this is going to work at all.”
“Well.” The Colonel sat immobilized by indecision. “If he really is from space, I’d hate to lose the chance to get him back.”
“Please let us save him.” Esmerelda leaned towards him, eyes imploring.
The Colonel moved, his mind made up. “OK. Bring him into the house.”
Esmerelda moved closer to the Colonel. “No, not the house. Not here. The negative vibrations generated here within the last few minutes are enough to make the task impossible. I must find a place of reasonable vibrations.”
The Colonel looked at Padeyevsky. “What’s she talking about?” Joshua responded to the question. “It’s complicated. It’s just another kind of medicine.”
“OK, then, we’ll take him to a hospital.”
Esmerelda reacted very strongly to that suggestion, putting her hands out in horror and saying, “Oh, no. That would be the worst place of all. All those negative astrals. They permeate the mental planes in a hospital, feeding on the suffering.”
“What’s she talking about?” iterated the Colonel. “What’s this negativity she keeps talking about?”
“Can we carry him just a little way outdoors?” Esmerelda was pleading, “Just let us put him out of doors. You can watch us. All right? Please?”
The Colonel waved his arms. “All right, all right. But I’m going to be close behind. Don’t take me for a fool.”
Behr and Starr moved quickly to the fallen man and lifted him gently between them. Esmerelda ran lightly out of doors, and down into the cleared area in back of the house. There was a small, rough-cut clearing, nearly covered with goldenrod and the last of the wildflowers.
“Bring him over here.”
They cradled him carefully, and laid him down in the densest profusion of flowers.
“Please get back.” Esmerelda’s hand swept the Colonel and Padeyevsky further up the slope. “Could you wait in the house?”
“Young lady, I do not intend to move back one step further. I told you not to take me for a fool.”
Esmerelda viewed him, and then turned to Joshua. “Is he far enough back now, do you think?”
Joshua shrugged. “It might take too long to move him further. I think we can manage.”
The Colonel sat down on the slope, Padeyevsky and Theodore retiring further, and sitting on the back steps of the little house. Joshua and Esmerelda walked a few feet away, and began to look up into the first dim light of the coming day.